The Last Founding Father vs. Donald Trump

It seems to be another hectic week for our President – Donald Trump. A government shut down never looks good for the leader of the government. I heard this news from my Dad who was quite upset – not at Donald Trump – but at Democrats. See, my Dad is not an anomaly. Whenever our views are attacked, our elephant instincts kick in. We “react” first and “rationalize” later – usually, that rationalization is far from sensical. My Dad and I like to bump chests politically, but in the end, we always just sit on the couch and watch sports. However, our discussions about politics are not zero-sum gains. Trying to understand another person’s views takes time, patience, and empathy. My Dad and I have learned a lot from each other and our conversations keep getting more civil – our tandem elephants are becoming more docile.

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As an extension of last week’s post about James Madison, I am going to further question what it means to be “presidential.” Time will tell how Trump does over the next years but how can we truly judge his performance? We need to know how other Presidents have done in the past so we can have rationale conversations into the future. To achieve this goal, I am reading every US President’s biography and writing about them for your enjoyment – here is a list of all the previous posts: George Washington, John Adams (coming next week), Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover. This week I read about America’s fifth president – James Monroe – The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness by Harlow Giles Unger.

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James Monroe was the last founding father to be President and was actually born shortly before the American Revolution in 1758. Monroe was raised in Virginia, but unlike Washington, Jefferson, or Madison he did not own substantial plantation property. He fought in the Revolutionary War and was actually with Washington in the Battle of Trenton when the famous crossing of the Deleware River occurred; he was wounded in the battle but eventually recovered. The military at the time had a glut of officers, so Monroe was never able to receive a position of command. Upon National Independence, he took up law to begin supporting himself and his wife, Elizabeth Monroe.

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Throughout this time, Monroe was mentored by a fellow Virginian – Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson pushed Monroe to join him in politics and Monroe initially split his time between law and the Virginian House of Delegates. He would go on to serve in the Congress of the Confederation and help ratify Virginia’s Constitution. His political career took off when he became Ambassador to France during the French Revolution, Ambassador to Britain and Minister to Spain – negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, land treaties, and peace negotiations while overseas. He would go on to be the Governor of Virgina for four terms, US Secretary of State, and US Secretary of War. While Secretary of War, he virtually ran the government because Madison was inept during that period of conflict. He would go on to be the most popular President since George Washington.

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Monroe committed over 40 years of his life to public service and served in more public posts than any American in history. While President, he pushed for Western expansion and acquired more land from the Spanish in modern-day Florida. He protected American interests at a time in history when European powers could quickly take advantage of the young country. The Monroe Doctrine was a masterpiece of diplomacy for the Western Hemisphere and allowed independence for myriad nations in Central and South America. Monroe was described by friends and foes alike as having plain and gentle manners. He was a bold and robust leader in times of war and peace and fought for the Bill of Rights and against secrecy rules in Congress – opening the halls of Government for the first time in history.

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Monroe established the first state-supported public schools and pushed the development of public roads and canals to further commerce. Monroe was secretly an excellent President who accomplished more than I had ever thought. He transformed a fragile nation into a glorious empire – by making the United States impregnable to attack and rich in natural resources. He allowed Americans to expand westward and gain a democratic vote through the ownership of land; his Presidency saw the largest redistribution of wealth in the annals of history. Monroe was so popular that there were no political parties during his presidency; he was able to bring people together and put his country first. James Monroe indeed achieved “presidential” status during his Presidency – unfortunately, Trump is nowhere close to his level at this point…but I’m hoping he will pull through.

Thomas Jefferson – Donald Trump Please Read

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.
-Thomas Jefferson

Who is your favorite president? I always ask this to random people on President’s Day and usually get responses like Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, or George Washington. My favorite president by far is Theodore Roosevelt but I think Thomas Jefferson might make my All-Star Team.

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Jefferson is a complicated man and the only thing I knew about him was that he authored the Declaration of Independence. I wanted to learn more about this formidable founding father so I read his biography – Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham. Thomas Jefferson was born in Shadwell, Virginia on April 13, 1743 and was the son of a popular local leader. Jefferson, from birth was raised to be a leader of men and to control the world he lived in. As a youth he was educated in the manners of the South: well learned with a cool, calm, and collected demeanor.

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He quickly took to all the sciences and was able to absorb Enlightenment philosophy during his first year at college. He was an insatiable learner who believed knowledge was a valuable possession which raised man from his “self-imposed immaturity.” By his 20’s he was the epitome of the renaissance man – farmer, violinist, scientist, philosopher, politician.

He was elected to the House of Burgesses at the age of 25 and lived a paradox as a politician – drawn to the spotlight but distraught by criticism. He was not a vocal man like John Adams but rather expressed himself best through writing. In 1774 he published the Summary View which argued for colony rights and became a rallying cry for the rumbling revolutionaries. The Summary View brought Jefferson to the Continental Congress and he quickly became the prime candidate to author the Declaration of Independence at the age of 33.

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The revolution quickly unfolded and Jefferson was elected as Governor of Virginia. As Governor, he trumpeted religious freedoms but fell short as a military hero – fleeing from the British when they came knocking. Nevertheless, with the end of the Revolutionary War, he was still esteemed and was sent to France as a delegate to promote the interests of America. While in France, he furthered his Enlightenment beliefs and helped Lafayette write “The Rights of Man.”

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Upon his return to America, he became the first Secretary of State and almost won the second presidency – ending up as the Vice President under John Adams. It was during his Vice Presidency that party politics first took a stronghold among the American public. John Adams and Alexander Hamilton (Federalist) were open to a stronger “monarchical” government while Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (Democratic-Republicans) were against anything that mirrored the old structure of hereditary power. With rising distrust of Federalist power, the people elected Thomas Jefferson as President.

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As President, Jefferson was a pragmatic philosopher who understood the need to compromise. He wanted a limited government except when the nation was best served by a more expansive one. In 1803, Napoleon sold Jefferson the Louisiana Purchase which more than doubled the size of the United States. Jefferson was extremely popular for this and was reelected to a second term. During his final four years in office, there was the high potential for war with Britain but Jefferson pushed for peace at all costs. By the time he had left office in 1809, Jefferson had put in place a heavy embargo which began to cripple the American economy and eventually the United States would go to war with Britain in 1812.

The Rotunda with a statue of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia.

Jefferson, throughout his career, fused Federalist and a Democratic-Republican ideologies – realizing that different tools were required for different jobs. In retirement, he would go on to found the University of Virginia and build his estate at Monticello. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams,would end up dying on July 4th, 1826 – 50 years after signing the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was a man with flaws but he was a man who left America and the world a better place. I especially like him as a President because he saw the merits of knowledge and was always on an eternal quest for wisdom. Jefferson for sure made bad decisions – he owned 600 slaves in his life and did little to fight for their freedom; siring many children with his mulatto slave – Sally Hemings.

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He was a man of his time in many ways but in other ways he was far ahead of the field – pushing for education, religious freedom, and  democracy when many wanted a King to rule. The United States would not be the same without Jefferson and I respect his beliefs of compromise that helped a country move through it’s precarious infancy. 

 

The Top 3 Ways to Improve America’s Democracy

This past week was quite eventful. Donald Trump won the presidency and a lot people were either extremely happy or extremely sad. We are all losers when it comes to America’s election process. Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or even Coreitarian I have some well thought out suggestions for all elections in the future.

  1. Pass a law that requires a small fee for all political posts/statuses on Facebook 

    Remember back in the 2000’s when your crazy uncle use to send you those chain emails that usually went like this …send this email to 5 more people if you love Jesus. If you don’t you will be cursed by an evil demon!!!! These emails usually got relegated to the junk folder immediately and most rational people ignored the all caps titles with the tabbed recipient list that went on for 100 lines. Fast forward to 2016 and those chain emails have evolved into the everyday posts that inundate Facebook. Over the past year I have probably seen over 1000 political posts that are churned out, most likely, from Dr. Evil as a plot to destroy all relationships and the world as a whole. These posts have no sources and usually include a grainy picture with a tag line like “Life’s a Bitch…Don’t Elect One,” or “Build a Wall Around Trump, I’ll Pay For It.” We all know these posts are stupid and don’t convince anyone to vote for the opposite candidate. In the end they only make us more divided through annoyance. To fix this I think there should be a five dollar charge for each post that is political –  this would exponentially decrease their frequency and make the election process much less miserable. The money will be used to help starving children in Africa. Eventually, we can just go back to what we use to do on Facebook: stalking people’s pictures, wishing we wouldn’t have accepted Grandma’s friend request, and laughing at stupid videos of cute animals.

  2. Everyone must take a “Test” to be eligible to vote***(See note on bottom) 

    At current, the only requirements to vote in the United States are your age (18) and that you have some sort of identification (in most states). This is an absolutely awful idea because a democracy depends on an educated populous. Back in the day, the electoral college was implemented because the Founding Fathers feared that an uneducated-demagogic population would elect someone unfit for the presidency. That is why they appointed the most sound-minded-well-respected individuals to the electoral college – being the only votes that really mattered. Today, the electoral college is more a symbolic gesture that is the worst of both worlds – it doesn’t allow appointed electors the ability to vote their will/conscious and it also doesn’t allow them to vote according the overall popular vote. To fix this problem I think we should first get rid of the electoral college and fix the problem of “uneducated” voters by requiring a test. We already take tests so we can drive, carry fire arms, and graduate High School. Why not take a test to decide the most powerful office in the world? The test would entail intermediate principles of government, economics, and history. It would also state the candidates’ policies and relevant facts about their efficacy. These facts can be compiled from a bipartisan panel – informing the test taker beyond mere Facebook posts. Of course, a lot of people will fail the test and a lot of people will be too lazy to take the test. Good. This country should be led by competent leaders who were elected by well-informed educated citizens.

  3. Require both candidates live in the White House together after the election 

    Trump and Hillary said a lot of nasty things about each other on the campaign trail. Now imagine that after they said those things, they would have to share the same bathroom for the next four years. Would they change their strategy? Maybe tone down the hate and focus more on policy? Moderate their comments to ensure their toothbrush doesn’t end up scrubbing the toilet? Of course candidates would stay in separate rooms but all meals and facilities would be shared; extra precautions would be taken to keep Bill from sneaking into Melania’s room. Overtime I believe both candidates would become closer, talk more policy, and reach more middle ground in their beliefs. A perfect example of this in real life is a college dorm. Roommates may come from different backgrounds, but when forced together they usually learn new things and grow from the experience. This idea is literally the antithesis of our current daily interactions which are usually through the computer and lack the empathy of face-to-face interactions. We could even extend this principle to congress and have some sort of Red/Blue bunk bed arrangement. I happily imagine conversations going late in the night about the pros and cons of building a wall and the economic theories of trade deals.

To wrap it up, this election made me depressed. I am however staying optimistic and giving Trump the benefit of the doubt. He is my President and one day I will write a blog post about his time in office. I pray that it is one commending a job well done. Who knows, he may implement some of my election policies.

***After writing this it was pointed out to me that this sounds like the days of Jim Crow. I do see the similarities but I didn’t intend it to disenfranchise any minority groups. In a perfect world, where everyone received an equal education and rights, the test would probably work. Since we don’t live in a perfect world my realistic alternative to the test is making election day a national holiday – so everyone can take some time and study up before they go to the polls. 

The Asthmatic Boy who Became the Unstoppable Man Part 3

I am a part of everything that I have read.
-Theodore Roosevelt

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I finally finished Edmund Morris’ three part biography of Theodore Roosevelt! Last week was a tribute to Teddy’s many accomplishments throughout his life and I have written two previous posts about his early life (Part 1) and his presidency (Part 2). The last book in Morris’ series is called Colonel Roosevelt and it profiles Roosevelt’s post presidency life until his death. Reading about Teddy in his later life made me both happy and sad because he tried to do great things but were often stopped by forces beyond his control. After his grand tour of Africa and Europe, Roosevelt came back to America with intentions of writing and staying out of politics. These plans were quickly abandoned because the sitting president, William Howard Taft, was doing little to push Roosevelt’s square deal (conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, consumer protection) and prevent political corruption. The people wanted Roosevelt to run for president in 1912 but the party wanted Taft. Roosevelt fought for primaries that were decided by the popular vote (how modern day nominations work) instead of selection of candidates by party leaders. Roosevelt and Taft were essentially tied for the nomination at the Republican National Convention but the old Republican guard disliked his progressive policies. Taft received the nomination but Roosevelt decided to form the Progressive Party and run against Taft (Republican), Woodrow Wilson (Democrat), and Eugene Debs (Socialist).

The Progressive Party ran on a platform that most of us would think were commonsense policies, but at the time they were extremely radical. Roosevelt toured the country speaking to over a million Americans about the tenets of his newly formed party:

-Complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs
-Laws prohibiting the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes
-Executives and board members of corporations should be held responsible for wrongdoings
-Promote conservation of natural resources
-Promote national security
-Graduated Income Tax
-Inheritance Taxes on big fortunes
-A judiciary accountable to changing social and economic conditions
-Comprehensive workmen’s compensation acts
-National laws to regulate the labor of children and women
-Higher safety and sanitary standards in the workplace
-Public scrutiny of all political campaign spending

Unfortunately, Roosevelt lost to Woodrow Wilson but he did beat Taft in electoral and popular votes. Roosevelt’s campaign did however alter the progressive policies of the two major parties-many of which would be enacted 25 years later by his fifth-cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After the election, Roosevelt became a little disillusioned by politics and began to write for magazines and conduct speaking events. In 1914, WWI broke out and Roosevelt soon put his heart into convincing Americans that they must arm themselves for national protection. After the Lusitania sunk, Roosevelt was furious that Wilson refused to enter the war and defend the Americans who were being mercilessly killed by the German U-Boats. Eventually, Wilson would be forced to enter the war and Roosevelt essentially begged the President to allow him to lead men into battle. The administration rejected this plea, and Roosevelt was forced to write about the war while his 4 sons went off to fight. At this point in his life, Roosevelt began to lose most of his health due to all his previous injuries: rheumatism and crippling asthma as a child, leg injury from a collision with a trolley car, a gun shot wound to the chest, malaria from the Spanish-American War, a near-death injury during a river expedition in the jungles of Brazil, and countless falls off his horse list a few. He became overweight from inactivity and depressed because he couldn’t fight physically or politically. His depression worsened when he heard that his son Quentin was shot down in France; this loss was the hardest in his life-even more than when he lost his mother and first wife on the same day at the age of 26. He would never fully recover from this and soon fell ill with rheumatism and a pulmonary embolism. As he lay dying, he was unaware that the Republican Party was excitedly planning his nomination for president in 1920.

In 2016, many of the principles Teddy fought for are still with us. We are a better country because of his progressive policies which fought for the collective good of the people instead of the collective good of the elite. Unfortunately, just like the election of 1912, we are fighting corruption in politics, corporations, and the values of equality. Remembering what Teddy fought for makes me appreciate how far America has come and how much more we need to improve.

Racist Smells to Rising Empires

Which type of meat would you like in your Chop Suey…rat, cat, or dog? Is this an odd question that seems completely ridiculous? Unfortunately, the idea that Chinese people ate these dirty or taboo types of meat came about in the mid 1800’s. The first major influx of Chinese immigrants to the US was during the 1849 gold rush in California. These early immigrants were a source of cheap labor in three distinct industries: mining, personal servants, and laundry. The early Chinese immigrants were pigeonholed to these lower class jobs because of racism and a general sense of superiority by white Americans. The history of Chinese food in America begins in this setting of prejudice and is explored in detail in the book Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America by Yong Chen. The early Chinese immigrants were seen as barbaric propagators of disease and hence the myth came about that they ate the animal equivalent of themselves- sewer rats. Early Chinese food in America was also given negative press because the restaurants in the mid 1800’s had distinct unfamiliar smells. These smells were from the Chinese tobacco smoked and the unique spices used in cooking; unfortunately, white Americans associated them with dirtiness and race inferiority. This was the stigma that Chinese food had to battle against and it is truly amazing that today, Chinese food is the most popular ethnic cuisine in America. How the heck did this happen?

The negative stigma towards Chinese immigrants began to shift from dirty rats to great workers throughout the late 1800’s. Whites commonly employed Chinese men as house servants because they were extremely hard workers, attentive, and more than anything clean. As more immigrants moved into the US, “China Towns” were erected to give the isolated Chinese a community and sense of home. These exotic town centers propagated a large amount of Chinese restaurants that served authentic Chinese food. As time went on, the image of Chinese cleanliness along with a shift away from personal servants provided a huge source of ideal restaurant laborers; this created a surge of Chinese restaurants throughout the US in the early 1900’s. The restaurateurs quickly began to shift their menus from traditional delicacies like bird nest soup and shark fin to the more Americanized dishes like Chop Suey and Egg Foo Yong. Along with adjustments to America’s gastronomical tastes, Chinese food filled America’s imperialistic tastes-material abundance, expansion, and democracy.

Chinese food in the twentieth century met the demands of the growing empire of America by providing cheap labor, affordable food, and quick service. The ever expanding middle class flocked to restaurants because it was a symbol of wealth and social status. Chinese food was the perfect democratic fit for all races, classes, and economic demographics. African Americans, Jews, and those in their 20’s especially flocked to Chinese restaurants as a haven where they felt accepted (for the most part). Chinese food was the original McDonald’s that fed a rising nation and created the quick, cheap food culture that is ubiquitous in the 21st century. Today, Chinese restaurants continue to adapt to American tastes and are more popular than ever. The history of Chinese food in America is not just a story of food but rather the relationship between two empires. China’s cheap labor satisfied America’s mass consumer needs in nearly every sector of the economy. The next time you eat some Crab Rangoon or Sesame Chicken think about how much that seemingly unimportant food allowed you to drive an over sized SUV, live in an over sized house, and live the over sized American lifestyle.